“They Say/I Say”

Gerald Graff’s major current project is a textbook sequel and companion to Clueless in Academe, to be entitled “They Say/I Say”: The Basic Moves of Argument,” co-written with his wife, Cathy Birkenstein-Graff.
Graff and Birkenstein-Graff are now testing a draft version of “They Say/I Say” in combined sections of first-year composition they are co-teaching at the University of Illinois at Chicago (what we will learn from our students’ reactions and progress represents the “research” aspect of this project), and several other college and high school teachers are helping us test the book by teaching it in part or in full.

The shape and approach of our textbook is outlined at numerous points in Clueless in Academe, most especially in the Introduction (“In the Dark All Eggheads are Gray,” Chapter 10 “Why Johnny Can’t Argue,” Chapter 12 “A Word for Words and a Vote for Quotes,” and in the book’s Epilogue, entitled “How to Write an Argument: What Students and Teachers Really Need to Know.” Many of the points to be made in the textbook are suggested by this Epilogue, which runs as follows:

1.Enter a conversation just as you do in real life. Begin your text by directly identifying the prior conversation or debate that you are entering. What you have to say won’t make sense unless your readers know the conversation in which you are saying it.

2.Make a claim, the sooner the better, preferably flagged for the reader by a phrase like
Where “They Say/I Say” will go beyond such a statement of abstract principles is in _operationalizing_ the principles by means of various templates Birkenstein-Graff originally developed in her composition courses at Columbia College of Chicago, De Paul University, and Loyola University. (Her template approach and its potentially broad applications to writing instruction are described in the above-mentioned chapters of _Clueless in Academe_.) The way the templates will work in the textbook, however, is suggested in #4 above, which provides a kind of template for summarizing the objections writers anticipate will be made against their claims:
Here you will probably object that _______________________.
But why, you may ask, am I so emphatic on this point? Because it’s important to see that ___________________________________.
Graff and Birkenstein-Graff have found that students who never make this kind of move spontaneously in their writing, and who won’t readily make it even if asked to by the assignment, are able to make it when supplied with the above templates, and that their writing takes on depth of self-awareness when they do so.

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